I have tired to be thorough enough in this study of numbers to be able to provide, without going into too much detail, some basic learning for the Tarot. As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the deck is split into two sections or arcana’s. The “Major Arcana” are close to the pure form of the numerological meaning. While the “Minor Arcana” are overlaid with another system called the medicine wheel. I shall talk in depth about the Minor Arcana in its appropriate section, for now I have taken a selection of Major Arcana in order to try and highlight how the system works.
The major’s more usually depict something very elemental or singular in its happening and are of direct influence rather than moving through the four directions or influences of the world.
Not every card is detailed here, but instead a selection to demonstrate how numbers – in tarot – are used to define states or events. For these references I have worked from the older deck of cards – the Marseilles – as I feel the numbers fit more appropriately to the picture references.
The Fool is without number, or as in the later decks numbered as a zero and indicates the fools’ journey or the beginning before any experience can garner wisdom.
The Hierophant is governed by the number five and comes under the meanings where higher thought (that is thought that is not under the influence of earthly demand) are in play. This card represents the higher aspirations.
Justice and Strength come under the numbers Eight and Eleven respectively, though in more modern decks this is reversed. Eight is a number of two worlds, spirit and form that move in influence cyclically between each other, this is then represented in the pack as the scales of balance or justice that find a harmony or balance between the two needs. In a reading this can imply some karmic event or the need – a desire for a balanced situation or result. The number eleven, which is the being of one ‘ness in a harmonious or balanced influence, provides a position of strength in ones own nature or energy. This is pictorially shown as the gentle hand taming the beast; or the lower nature. A strength that does not require contest.
The Hanged Man or number twelve is primarily ruled by the number one but is working alongside the number two; so there is a connection of one with the harmonious duality. This composition indicates knowledge of the sacrifices that need to be made between the self and harmony with others, the picture in the deck of cards has the hanged man stood on his head, the nature of spiritual sacrifice that requires that things be seen differently, sometimes this card can indicate meditative states of mind.
Temperance or the number Fourteen is again the essence of realisation (one) but alongside the number four, so this would be awareness of the needs of the world (number 4) or environmental demands i.e. mindfulness of the needs of restraint either in thought or in deed.
When we put the numbers one and five together, we have the ability of seeing beyond the confusions, or as depicted in tarot The Devil. We have also here a tension between the individual (one) with altruistic thought (five), this tension is similarly in The Tower, number 16, though as the secondary number is six this is more in reference to what is created through peoples joined efforts. In both these cases, the realisation of one, is seeking to create a higher state.
Judgement or number 20 has the balance and harmony of two with the infinite, what we have in this position is a clarity and peace to allow the divine or inspirational part of our selves to see through choices or actions, in other words to be able to judge your self. This is not to be confused with being judgemental, but rather being ‘informed’.
With The World in number twenty one we hold harmony and next to that a sense of one’ ness, which opens up the fruits and beauty of the world.
As I hope is clear, the “Major Arcana” is in the pure form of the number. The “Minor Arcana” are however a little different, in that these pure event numbers are now split or overlaid onto a framework that holds the systems of our earthly design. This framework of systems is split into four separate – yet related energy’s that correspond with the four directions of the earth, that is East, South, West, and North. This is a system that has been used universally by mankind throughout almost every age and has gathered many names; among these is “life wheel”, “medicine wheel” and so on.
How the minor arcana gathers meaning to each of its cards is done by joining the direction or suit, with the numerological meaning. There is the original meaning of the number from the card and overlaid on top of that is the meaning of the suit or the direction that energy will take.
Again I haven’t gone into full detail with all the cards but only picked some that I feel are challenging or interesting to grasp. It is my hope that you can use these examples here and apply this principle to the other working cards.
I hope it is obvious, but these interpretations have been presented in such a way as to try and show how each energy or direction effects the number it is involved with.
An Ace of Cups points to the inner or emotional state that is coupled with self awareness and is therefore overflowing or abundant.
An Ace of Wands is the focus or direction of a wand upon its goals and could indicate a person or group of people that are singular or undisturbed to their direction.
An Ace of Swords is the un-swerved will that is true to its own knowledge.
An Ace of Pentacles is a position of abundance or rich ground for growth.
A Two of Swords would be two like minds that sit in the harmony of duality and so would be unified by a single goal. This is almost visionary as the two opposites are a harmonious completion of the one.
With the Two of Pentacles we have the balancing or harmony of two within the shifting demands of the physical world. This card then signifies the balancing of worldly affairs.
The Two of Cups is a secure or reciprocated state between mutual needs or people. Often about relationships.
The Two of Wands is bringing the directional quality of a wand into the supportive balance of “two”, this translates in the cards as an awareness of where this direction is starting from and where it is heading to.
On the Five of Pentacles in the “Rider Waite” pack; the picture is of two beggars going for receipt of alms from the charitable body or church, five is the number of higher aspiration that is held in conjunction with the earth symbol which combines to give this card a charitable meaning.
Five of Cups or hearts brings the philosophical five to the inner domain and indicates a sense of leaving the lower emotional practices behind, the search and desire for higher feeling. This can also be progression due to growing up.
Five of Wands has the higher mental aspirations of “five” that want direction, so we have a time or situation where many ideas are coming forward. This could be a lot of energy around one central aspiration.
The Five of Swords is where the will of an individual is cutting its way through the wills of others, as the sword is singular it appreciates only its own reason.
The Seven of Wands is using the very dynamic seven, different to the mental five, to put into action plans and arrangements.
The Seven of Cups would signify a great out flowing of energy, since cups sit in the west where the spiritual energy of the sun is internalised it combines with the number seven to a situation where the emotional need desires to take an actual form.
The Seven of Swords, here the swords are indicative of where people cut across each other, the sword being an instrument of the will or competitive nature and Pentacles would join the effort of seven to the earth and have the meaning similar to labour (depending where placed in your spread).
Take some time to compare the notes on the directions of the equilateral cross and the notes on numerology and see how each interpretation relates to the cards, also observe the differences between the suits and try to understand the directions more. This time spent will pay out well.
The Royal Suits
The royal suits are to be interpreted in a similar fashion, where the King (Father figure) represents dominion or control in the outward visible sense and the Queen (Mother figure) equally but more with internal affairs, each suit would indicate where this influence was covered. This is similar to the Knight and Page who are like the greater and lesser servants; or friends. The royal cards are most often representing people or identity’s of people, though this is not a fixed rule and can be applied to situations. I have laid these personal interpretations out in such a way as to provide a view of how the same identity; or person changes with the different directions.
King of Wands – director type person or position. Often the initiator of ideas who tends to look at the bigger picture!
King of swords – is more the conqueror or over seer and likes to take command or control of situations.
King of Cups – is sensible and mature in emotional situations; while still aware of the needs. This person is able to steer the ship through the winds of tempest.
King of Pentacles – the governor of resources and very sensible about what needs to be done to see the proper return from the effort.
Queen of Wands – very good at tying up the loose ends and making sure things actually get done!
Queen of Swords – will fight from the side lines and be the eyes that watch the back for those whose attention is at the front. Not a person to mess about with.
Queen of Cups – is the type who takes great care to peoples feelings and needs and lays great importance to nurturance.
Queen of Pentacles – is the fixer and sorter, the mother of her surroundings.
Knight of Wands – will take the direction out for you and see that the purpose to hand is done.
Knight of Swords – is much the same as the knight of wands but more concerned with personal accomplishment, unless governed by a strong hand.
Knight of Cups – a passionate friend who will give support for those troubled times; so long as it has emotional need, or take joy in pleasure in the quiet times.
Knight of Pentacles – is typically the steward who will serve the creation and accomplishments of the communal effort.
Page of Wands – is a friend and associate familiar to the plan in hand, though likely to work from personal inspiration.
Page of Swords – an ally and mutual friend that creates no trouble as their benefit is tied into the common benefit.
Page of Cups – is the associate that comes passing by sharing merry jokes and laughter, then sharing such gifts elsewhere.
Page of Pentacles – is hard working and diligent for such times as this is needed.
The Royals I feel are a little easier to come to grips with but the principle is the same throughout the “Minor Arcana”, that of a numerological system that is overlaid onto the equal armed cross, causing the number to take its meaning into different directions.
It is my belief that viewing the cards in this way, rather than reading pictures. It is useful I find to look deeper in to meanings then step back out and look at the situation again from the surface. Although this will take longer, if we can achieve a depth of appreciation and be able to read factually or frankly, then the quality of counselling offered from a reading can only improve.
by Stuart Waldron
© Stuart Waldron, 2004